Exploring the Darling Anabranch Lakes - Nearie Lake Reserve, Travellers and Popio Lakes

Monday, Sep 29, 2008 at 00:00


29th September, 2008
The Greater Darling Anabranch (west of Glue Pot Creek)

It was a classic Mallee morning, cool, crisp and sunny. A perfect day for the trip north. Our first duty involved. procuring last minute supplies (including suitably refreshing beverages) and fuel. Merbein looked as good a place as any to fill up and whilst doing so, I took the opportunity to fill a 20 litre plastic container with water. On returning it to the vehicle, I placed it down on the tarmac at the back of the car only to have the bottom crack and drop out. The containers were just over two years old but the plastic had gone brittle. A hasty search of the town hardware co-operative proved fruitless so we headed off, crossing the border on the Abbotsford Bridge to Wentworth

Wentworth still appears largely unaffected by the drought and rural economic downturn. Its streets still bustle with people and the shops are largely full. Whether this is superficial I don’t know. Our luck changed and in one of those “emporium” type stores you can only find in the outback, I located another 20 liter plastic drum. From here is was north up the Silver City Highway 66 kilometers to Bunerungee where rather than cross the Anabranch, we turned right onto the gravel of the Old Broken Hill Road. The country was looking exceptionally dry with very little feed about. Even the Bluebush and saltbush looked stressed! The ubiquitous goat was ever present. It’s amazing just how high they can climb into the mulga and acacia chasing a feed of leaves. They are the true survivors in this country.

Our turn off onto the Roo Roo Road took us to Stony Crossing and the Nearie Lake Wildlife reserve. Nearie Lake reserve is a small reserve 0f nearly 4500 hectares granted in 1973 after the expiry of the western lands lease. The most significant feature of the reserve is Nearie Lake, which makes up approximately half of the reserve. This ephemeral lake only fills after moderate to major flooding of the Darling Anabranch which equates to roughly one or two times every seven to ten years. The Reserve is dominated by saltbush shrub lands, while the lower flooding areas support black box, lignum and old man salt bush. The sandy ridges support beulah woodlands. While not a lot to see when dry, the birdlife that frequents this area when the Anabranch is full is amazing. From my previous trips up this way I know that all the lakes in this area support a wealth of significant aboriginal burial sites and mega-fauna sites.

From Nearie we took the roads less travelled into various tanks. The dams are a thing of the past here now with the laying of the Black poly pipe. The countryside is dotted with Poly tanks and the occasional steel or concrete above ground reservoir. Seems to be a more sensible way to move and conserve water in the dry country. It was about this time that we started to doubt the accuracy of some of the NatMaps we were using. Certainly with a lot of the mining and mineral sands operations up this way, many roads have been upgraded and new ones built to cater for the large b-double and triple units that cart the resources out. Also many "Roads” that were indicated on the map were in fact simple station tracks in varying states of use, from little to none at all.

From Roo Roo, once we crossed Stony crossing, we veered to the right into Yelta Lake eventually reaching the remains of an outstation camp on the now dry Anabranch. In its time it would have been a well set up camp for fishing or station activities with a well and windmill to draw water, a rather forlorn looking jetty that now jutted into the open air about 5 metres above the dry creek bed. Heading north-east again we headed for Differential Tank. This dam has been replaced with an actual tank and it was surprising to see large mobs of sheep about, oblivious to the harsh conditions. I’d say the blue bush was copping a fair cropping though. Some distance past Differential we met the Old Roo Roo Road again and stuck with this route until again heading off on the lesser tracks towards Box Tree Well, Nevill’s (yes that's right, no 'e' on the end) tank and Red Tank. At Nevill’s the track took a turn to head a sharp NNW towards Back Well and Travellers’ Lake. We disturbed large mobs of Red and Blue Flyer roos who didn’t waste any time in putting distance between themselves and our vehicle.

Soon we saw the lee side of the high white dunes that mark the eastern shoreline of Travellers’ lake, again an ephemeral lake fed by the rare flooding of the anabranch. Cutting due west some distance north of North Tank (funny that!), an ill defined track wound its way through a wind carved valley between towering dunes and down onto the lake bed. Travellers’ is a large dry bed of better than 13km at it’s widest. The lake is ringed by a large dune system, the shoreline shaded by large black box. The wind has woven its magic over millennia eroding the old lake shore into pinnacles and heaping the loose sand into high dunes. The upper dunes are held together by lignum and grasses. In many places, the bones of ancient burials are coming to light, as are the remains of long extinct mega fauna like the Procoptodon and Diprotodon.

Out on the dry lake bed, clouds of dust were being stirred up by hundreds of sheep making their way into the trees and water. The landscape was extremely dry and dusty. We wound our way around the shoreline eventually stopping and walking into the dunes for a look around. While not locating any artifacts, we did find a heap of goats moving about high up in the dunes. I counted 50 or so in several large mobs before heading back to the car. New fencing put an end to our intended travel route and we could no longer access the northern end of the lake. We had intended to head out onto the flood plains and follow the anabranch west to Hunters waterhole.Instead we had to backtrack a few kilometers and find another route though the dunes and onto the saltbush country beyond. We then entered the box flood plain country in which the great Darling anabranch sits, again finding that the tracks bore no resemblance to those on the maps. We followed the Anabranch for a short distance eventually crossing at a weir and bore. From here we wound our way around a large horseshoe billabong and followed the western side of the creek for a few kilometers before finding a fantastic campsite in a grass clad section of the creek near a large water hole. The waterhole was nearly dry at this point but the surrounding creek bed was still carpeted in a green clover like (and swag friendly!) ground cover. A beaut, sheltered spot with an abundance of timber and plenty of birdlife in the surrounding redgums.

Camp was set up in no time and a refreshing beverage in hand, we settled in to enjoy the sunset by the fire.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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